As we look at Revelation 6:12-17 this week and focus on the interesting phrase "the wrath of the Lamb" in 6:16, it is worth revisiting this topic. As I (Darin) looked backed on whether we had written at length on a "Theology Tuesday" about this, I saw we had not! So, this is a little longer. Read it in chunks or a one time. But consider what God's Word says. Pray for spiritual fruit!
IS GOD REALLY A GOD A WRATH?
Many view the doctrine or concept of divine wrath and anger as beneath God. Some say that the idea of divine wrath is outdated. In other words, divine wrath is seen as an impersonal force at work in a moral universe, rather than a personal attribute within God's character. Wrath may be ordained and controlled by God, but it is evidently not a part of him, as love, mercy, kindness, and other attributes are.
On the other hand, if we’re honest, considering and preaching about God's love comes naturally. Grace and mercy are inviting subjects, and forgiveness and salvation are beloved themes in the Bible. However, when we broach the topic of judgment and propose that this God of love and mercy also possesses wrath and vengeance, it becomes a different challenge. After all, nobody gets mad at God for being compassionate and merciful. But in our day and age, people readily pass judgment on God's character when discussions revolve around his holiness and righteous anger (Isaiah 6!).
What’s worse, the concept of divine justice and wrath finds limited favor among some segments of the 21st century Christian community. At the very least, this reveals a deficiency in their belief in the doctrine of inspiration and the practical authority and sufficiency of the Bible. If we truly regard Scripture as the infallible written Word of God—applicable to all aspects of life and faith—then we must also accept the idea of divine wrath, even if it makes some uncomfortable.
Those who hold this view have evidently misconstrued the Bible's intended meaning when it addresses judgment and divine wrath. It is not about a lack of self-control or an irrational and unpredictable outburst of anger. Divine wrath should not be likened to a “heavenly bad mood” or God reacting angrily to those who displease him. Divine wrath represents a righteous opposition to all that is unholy—an expression of God's character's repulsion toward anything that violates his will. In fact, one could describe divine wrath as an expression of divine love! Because God's wrath is a manifestation of his love for holiness, truth, and justice.
Consider this for a second: If we don't deserve to face divine wrath for our sins, then God's forgiveness loses its meaning. Without the concept of judgment, God could simply overlook our wrongdoing. Forgiveness becomes meaningful when we acknowledge that our sins place us in a situation where we rightfully deserve the serious consequences of God's judgment due to our unbelief and sinful, wicked actions. When a situation calls for God to act in judgment against sinful people, but instead he acts on their behalf, the term "grace" takes on real significance. However, if the idea of God's wrath and judgment for sin and unbelief doesn't exist, then grace loses all meaning and importance.
Regardless of your perspective on God, if it doesn't include the acknowledgment that he is holy and righteous and will administer wrath and judgment to those who persistently reject him, it's an unbiblical and unrealistic viewpoint. In fact, it's an unloving perspective.
For example, if you say to non-Christians that they should repent and believe in the gospel, but then say, "Don't worry, even if you don't, God will find a way to embrace you despite your unbelief," you're treating that person with contempt. You're leaving them susceptible to eternal damnation with false hope in a God who is supposedly too loving to ever condemn anyone to hell.
Let me be crystal clear: I won't apologize for God's wrath, and I'm not ashamed of it—and neither should you or our church! If the God of the Bible didn't care about things like sexual abuse, injustice, theft, murder, idolatry, racism, perversion, abortion, rape, and dishonesty, then he wouldn't be deserving of anyone's worship or praise. Righteous anger against sin is fundamental to God's nature. Holding humans accountable for wickedness and pouring out wrath on those who refuse to repent is part of his holiness. I won't sidestep or avoid what the Bible teaches about this to avoid offending people or to ensure financial support.
The God of the Bible, the one true God, is incredibly patient, kind, compassionate, loving, gracious, and merciful. However, that doesn't mean he's lenient when it comes to sin or resembles an overly-indulgent grandparent who lets you get away with things your parents wouldn't allow. God is holy, righteous, and just, and he is nothing like a lenient relative who lacks the resolve to hold anyone accountable for their actions.
In an article published in The Christian Century (May 1, 2013), it was noted that the Presbyterian Committee on Congregational Song (PCOCS), acting under the authority of the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A. (PCUSA), conducted a theological evaluation of the popular worship song "In Christ Alone," composed by Keith Getty and Stuart Townend. This evaluation was part of their preparations for the upcoming release of the denomination's new song collection, "Glory to God."
As you may be aware, the second stanza of the song contains the line, "Till on that cross as Jesus died, the wrath of God was satisfied." In a prior version of the denomination's hymnal, this line had been altered to read, "Till on that cross as Jesus died, the love of God was magnified." While no one disputes that God's love was magnified in Christ's death for us, Getty and Townend, to their credit, resisted the change. According to Bringle, the committee was confronted with a decision: either include the hymn with the authors' original language or exclude it from their selection.
The final vote resulted in six members in favor of retaining the song with its original wording and nine members against it. The "No" votes prevailed, leading to the removal of the song from the collection.
For the PCUSA, it's a crucial belief: If Jesus Christ didn't bear and satisfy God's wrath on our behalf, we would face it ourselves. The only reason we're not under God's wrath is because Jesus took it upon himself. Our hope that God's wrath is not directed at us rests entirely on Christ's sacrifice on the cross. If Jesus didn't appease God's wrath and fulfill divine justice in himself, we would have no hope. Worse yet, we'd have no gospel, and no good news to share with a world in need.
SO, WHAT DOES THE BIBLE SAY?
But does the Bible actually describe God's wrath as a defining aspect of his character? It certainly does.
One significant Greek word for wrath is "thumos," which originally referred to a violent movement in various elements like air, water, the ground, animals, or humans. Over time, it came to represent passionate anger that rises and subsides quickly. In the New Testament, it appears twice in Luke, five times in Paul's writings, once in hebrews, and ten times in Revelation. Outside of Revelation, it is used to describe God's wrath only once (Romans 2:8). In Revelation, it refers to God's wrath seven times, with six instances explicitly mentioning "of God" (14:10, 19; 15:1, 7; 16:1; 19:15).
The word "orge" is more fitting for describing God's wrath in the New Testament. It is derived from "orgao," signifying "growing ripe" for something or "getting ready to bear." Consequently, "orge" conveys a settled disposition or emotion stemming from God's nature. It is specifically attributed to God in John 3:36 (spoken by Jesus himself), Romans 1:18, Ephesians 5:6, Colossians 3:6, and Revelation 19:15. Revelation even mentions "the wrath of the Lamb" (a striking juxtaposition) in Revelation 6:16 (also see Rev. 6:17; 11:18; 14:10; 16:19). Notably, Revelation 19:15 speaks of "the winepress of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty," with "fierce" translating "thumos" and "wrath" translating "orge."
Numerous passages could be cited, but I'll conclude by highlighting just two. The Apostle John explicitly states, "Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him" (John 3:36). Paul echoes this sentiment, saying, "For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth" (Romans 1:18; also see Ephesians 5:6).
SOME FINAL THOUGHTS…
Allow me to summarize with some significant points that I hope will challenge your perception of God and deepen your appreciation for his grace through Christ.
Firstly, it's essential to understand that God's wrath and righteous anger aren't limited to the Old Testament. Some mistakenly believe that the "God of the Old Testament" is an angry figure vastly different from the God depicted in the New Testament. However, this overlooks the fact that the Old Testament also portrays God as compassionate, patient, merciful, and tender-hearted. Similarly, the New Testament includes passages like Hebrews 10 that openly discuss divine wrath. Additionally, consider the events surrounding the Second Coming of Christ, as described in Revelation 19:15, where God's wrath is a significant element.
Secondly, we should genuinely appreciate and thank God for his wrath. Yes, you read that correctly. We should express gratitude and praise for his wrath. The idea that unrepentant and stubbornly defiant rebels might escape accountability for their deeds and avoid the judgment they rightfully deserve is deeply troubling. I am thankful to God that, whether in this life or the next and for all of eternity, those who harbor hatred toward him and commit unimaginable wickedness on Earth will face judgment.
Lastly, we must consistently praise and glorify God for his incredible grace, which allows us to escape this wrath. His wrath has been entirely absorbed by Jesus and completely satisfied for those who place their trust in him as their Lord and Savior. While we may have been among those who committed evil, abuse, and wickedness on Earth, by turning to God's mercy through Jesus' once-for-all sacrifice, we can find forgiveness. It's essential to understand that God's wrath was neither set aside nor ignored concerning the sins of Christians. Instead, it was fully and permanently poured out on his Son, who endured for sinners what they should have suffered.
Let's give thanks to God, the source of all blessings! One of the greatest and most precious blessings among many is the gift of his Son, who took our place and bore the wrath we rightfully deserved. My sole hope for eternal life—my sole basis for forgiveness—lies in the glorious truth that "on that cross as Jesus died, the wrath of God was satisfied!"